Wednesday, May 4, 2005 1:21 PM
CDT Heart of the
By META HEMENWAY-FORBES, Courier
WATERLOO --- Mary Jo Scully Klatt believes she has a
guardian angel --- an angel who kept her alive as she
ignored symptoms that should have led to a fatal heart
Klatt underwent an emergency double
bypass last summer after a stress test showed a major
blockage in an artery. The vessel was 90 percent
blocked, and the blockage was in a location difficult to
"I had what was called a widowmaker,
which means if I would have had a heart attack I would
not have survived," says Klatt.
Klatt and her family and
friends were stunned at the discovery. She was just 54
and had been an aerobics instructor for 20
"I exercised almost every day, was not
overweight, never smoked, didn't have extremely high
cholesterol and didn't have diabetes," says Klatt. "My
genes had taken over, my arteries were clogged and I was
headed for double bypass surgery."
Sundaram, an interventional cardiololgost with Cedar
Valley Medical Specialists, says that's a common
reaction among heart patients who have none of the risk
factors for heart disease.
"People say 'I walk
every day, I exercise; eat right. Where did I go wrong?'
Probably that's why you are still alive. If you haven't
done any of those things, maybe you would have died of a
heart attack four years ago. It wasn't a
Sundaram says exercise conditions the
heart, and in people with blockages the heart gradually
learns to live with insufficient oxygen. Over time,
natural bypasses form around the blockage.
first experienced symptoms long before the surgery. She
was participating in a step aerobics class when she felt
a pain in the center of her chest that radiated through
her shoulders. She thought it was heartburn and took an
antacid. The pain subsided.
Over the next 18
months, the bouts of pain would come and go, always when
Klatt was in motion. She continued taking antacids to
curb the discomfort. Sundaram says people often mistake
serious heart symptoms with heartburn. But it's not the
antacid that stops the pain, rather the cease of
"There is a burning sensation in the
chest. Most of the time it is associated with exertion
and it goes away when you take a rest," he says. "But
it's not too uncommon to blame the pizza. When it
happens periodically, you must have it checked to make
sure it's the pizza and not something
When the pain and subsequent shortness
of breath forced Klatt to sit down in the middle of an
aerobics class she was teaching, she returned to the
doctor seeking a stronger antacid. The doctor scheduled
her for a stress test instead.
"I was excited to
get all this over and get to the bottom of this pain,"
Klatt says of the morning she went for the test. She was
sure she would pass with flying colors. "I drove off
with a car full of goods for Goodwill, my workout
clothes for after the stress test and notes for a
meeting at noon."
For the stress test, Klatt was
hooked up to heart monitors and hopped on a treadmill.
The doctor started her out at a quick pace. Almost
immediately, Klatt became winded and had chest
"They stopped the treadmill, sat me down
and gave me some aspirin," she recalls. "I was in a
hospital room within an hour."
Two days later,
she had double bypass surgery at Allen
Sundaram says Klatt was fortunate. Most
patients who ignore symptoms don't live to tell about
it. People who are at risk for heart disease --- family
history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a
sedentary lifestyle --- should be especially concerned
if they experience symptoms. Symptoms can include
shortness of breath with activity; chest pain or a
feeling of tightness or pressure in the chest; or a
burning sensation in the chest.
to pay attention. If you catch early on, with a simple
test a doctor may be able to prevent a heart attack,"
June 18 marks the anniversary of
Klatt's surgery. It was six weeks after the bypass
before she entered rehabilitation.
"I was looking
so forward to going back to exercising, but the first
day of rehab I cried," she says. "I could barely walk on
the treadmill for five minutes. I went from being a
physically fit specimen to barely being able to walk 10
Klatt was released from rehab when she
started riding her bicycle to rehab sessions.
guess they considered me healed," she says,